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The Mysterious Case of the Missing Recycling Containers: The Tulip Festival Albany, NY

Posted by on 6/11/2014 to Public Space Recycling
On May 10th and 11th, 2014, I grabbed my camera and family and headed to the city of Albany, New York to attend the 66th annual Tulip Festival. The event, held in sprawling Washington Park, attracts thousands of visitors anxious to summon in the outdoor festival season embodied in the beautiful and iconic tulips. With dozens of food vendors and multiple concert stages, attendees stay all day and into the evening. Imagine the waste management effort involved.

 

RecycleAway had contracted with the city of Albany to provide public space recycling containers to some of the city’s most visited areas, including Washington Park. We wanted to see for ourselves how these public space containers were serving the population.

Once on the grounds on this gorgeous spring day we were swept up into the enthusiasm of a crowd relishing the weather after an historic cold winter. Folks of all ages, food of every variety lining the paths, a garden of tulips in every color imaginable; we almost forgot to look for our beloved recycling containers.

 

It seemed logical to start with the food vendors. We came across plenty of wire mesh and metal trash cans lined with clear trash bags but surprisingly we saw none of the attractive recycling stations Recycle Away designed. We ventured over to the Moses fountain next to the tulip garden and again found no containers. it was only after we had been through the heart of the park and made our way to the path along the interior perimeter that we saw 2 recycling stations, and they were quite close together, next to the security and police center. Curious.


 

There was a clear discrepancy between the amount of pedestrian traffic carrying plastic water bottles and the lack of recycling containers to dispose of them. But all was not lost for public space recycling progress. The plastic bottles and cans were being collected the old fashioned way - by scavenging.

 


By chance we found exactly what we were looking for; an information tent hosted by the City of Albany Department of Development and Planning. Mary Millus, Senior Planner in the Mayors office was remarkably agreeable considering I approached her unannounced with a large HD video camera and microphone pointing in her direction.



So what happened to the recycling stations? 

This is not an official statement from the event or the city of Albany, but, apparently there is a growing concern over security. After the Boston Marathon bombings, the concealed nature of recycling bins can provide an opportunity for a maleficent act. Anecdotally, this may explain a police presence stationed right where the only 2 recycling stations in the park were. I went back to the bins to interview an officer and ask him if security influenced their position in the park next to these bins. He had no idea what I was talking about and when I explained he joked that perhaps his team ought to find a safer distance.  

Considering our trip to the Albany Tulip Festival was intended to film an attractive video case study, it  turned out to be more like investigative journalism. Removing the recycling stations and replacing them with transparent trash receptacles as an extra security precaution was probably not intended to be any sort of newsworthy event but rather a responsible safety measureWhen it comes to Public Space Recycling top of the list of challenges  has always been funding and public education. Public Space Recycling best practices hadn't included methods in the prevention on random acts of violence, but now we know! Perforated recycling containers with domed lids and clear bags co-located with matching trash cans may take over as a best practice in public space recycling.  It reveals the complicated times we live in that we must protect the public and find ways to make progress in protecting the environment at the same time. 

Another result of the trip is that I can honestly give a plug for the Albany Tulip Festival. Washington Park is a world class urban outdoor space and the festival itself is a great time for the whole family.